Inside the unassuming church of Old Saint Paul’s in the city centre of Edinburgh last night, the congregation gathered to hear the choir sing the service of Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday.

The service comprises psalms and readings sung to plainsong and faux-bourdon settings. This evocative rite with simple but dramatic ceremony helps to draw us into the darkness of the Passion. During the rite the lights are gradually extinguished until just one candle, representing Christ, remains shining in the darkness. This is a foretaste of the Resurrection; the light that banishes darkness.

When I was living in Edinburgh the Tenebrae service was always my favourite one of the year, and this is the first time in 12 years that I’ve missed it. The service is sung throughout (except for a small amount of spoken text at the end), and is performed from a booklet compiled for All Saints, Margaret Street in London (including the instruction to the choir to “exit to the south grill”).

One year I cut short a business meeting in Washington DC, to catch a flight home to Edinburgh to attend Tenebrae. And for me, it’s always been an important part of Holy Week; one that I miss very deeply now that I’m in Dublin.

Posted by Richard

Richard has been blogging since 2000 about technology, cycling, singing, and life in general. Follow him @richbloomfield on Twitter.

3 Replies to “Tenebrae”

  1. Interesting you should post this – I was just chatting with a former OSP singer about Tenebrae.
    I sang in the Tenebrae service at St. Mark’s Cathedral here in Minneapolis last night. There were only 8 singers – we did a mix of plainchant and the Lassus Lamentations – very beautiful.


  2. I’m now thinking I should have got half a dozen singers together and done the Tenebrae service here in Dublin. That would have been sweet. Just wish I’d thought of it a few weeks ago.


  3. Got to sing Tenebrae myself this year for the first time (the sops are finally requested) … and it’s definately my favourite Holy Week service too! Think we’re hoping to do the polyphony next year which would be interesting.
    Hope you have a good Easter


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